Anthem-backed Hydrogen Health rolls out virtual primary care services for insurers, employers

Anthem-backed digital health solution Hydrogen Health is rolling out its virtual primary care service for self-insured employers and insurers.

Hydrogen Health rolled out its services with Anthem this past summer and is now expanding to multiple Fortune 500 employers and large regional health plans, company executives said, with a plan to be live for an additional 10 million people by the end of 2022.

Hydrogen Health is a new venture from New York-based K Health, backed by an Anthem investment and funds managed by investment firm Blackstone that aims to lower healthcare costs and make care more accessible. Announced in April, the joint venture harnesses K Health's artificial intelligence tools to bring digital-first healthcare to the employer and consumer markets.

Hydrogen Health’s flagship product, K Health, leverages AI, hundreds of affiliated board-certified clinicians and a 24/7 digital remote care offering to close the primary care gap facing millions. 

The company currently offers text-based chats and video visits with clinicians to treat a range of urgent, chronic and pediatric conditions—from UTIs to anxiety. Its core product offering, K Health, provides millions with accurate, personalized information about how their symptoms compare to others experiencing similar symptoms, through its AI, while also collaborating with affiliated clinicians to improve patient outcomes.

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"We've seen early good results," with Anthem's fully insured population," Rajeev Ronanki, president of Anthem's digital platforms told Fierce Healthcare. "We've seen reduced use of urgent care visits, we're seeing reduced ER visits and we’re seeing more proactive closures in gaps of care. We're also seeing better customer satisfaction for the members engaged in virtual primary care capabilities than other comparable non-virtual capabilities." 

Hydrogen Health app (Hydrogen Health)

Virtual primary care from Hydrogen Health has become a key part of Anthem's digital strategy, Anthem CEO Gail Boudreaux said during an Anthem earnings call in October, describing the services as the “next generation of virtual primary care.” 

"I think what's interesting and unique about this is they're integrated with our high-performance network, and that's really important," Boudreaux said during the earnings call. "We've offered it first in our fully insured risk-based business and now our national fee accounts are interested in embedding this in their offerings." 

Hydrogen expanded its affiliated clinician services to enable end-to-end diagnosis and management of more chronic conditions, making it one of the first-ever nationwide virtual-only primary care solutions that does not rely on costly primary care in-person care models, according to executives.

Hydrogen’s comprehensive services are offered in a virtual setting, including establishing care remotely. If a patient requires a referral to specialty care, a board-certified clinician will help navigate them to high-performing and affordable providers, with continued follow-up.

It expands upon K Health's existing base of 5 million users and Hydrogen Health's services are now live with 2 million people through its health plan and employer partners.

"We see a need across the industry for leading digital capabilities integrated with a health insurance plan's in-person network to create the seamless ability to transverse digital, virtual and in-person care and a frictionless experience for consumers. And to make sure everyone has access to it, we want to make it available to other insurers and other employers," Ronanki said.

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The virtual primary care service leverages K Health's technologies and digital capabilities combined with Anthem's network and scale, according to Allon Bloch, CEO and co-founder of Hydrogen Health and K Health.

The aim is to provide people with access to high-quality medical care remotely and reduce costs in the healthcare system.

The problems associated with in-person primary care, including doctor availability, wait times, travel and high costs, have prevented many people, even those with insurance, from getting the care they need when they need it. The problem of cost is compounded for those with high-deductible plans and the over 30% of covered workers who’ve seen an increase in their annual premium, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It can be especially expensive for people with chronic conditions.

About 26% of U.S. adults don't have a primary care provider, according to a national poll conducted in July by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And there was a pronounced difference among age groups: 45% of 18- to 29-year-olds had no primary care provider, compared with 28% of those 30 to 49, 18% of those 50 to 64 and 12% age 65 and older.

“Too many people rely unnecessarily on the ER and urgent care for things that a primary care doctor could’ve handled, resulting in wasted costs and time, and sub-par experiences,” Bloch said. “Hydrogen Health puts 24/7 doctors right into people’s pockets, armed with more medical data than you can imagine, to make primary care less of a hassle and more impactful than ever before.”  

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Virtual primary care services can prevent unnecessary ER visits by treating people early and often, which can reduce 20% of current healthcare costs in America, he said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a massive shift to virtual care to address acute medical issues. But Hydrogen Health's strategy is to build continuous primary care relationships and use its digital services to treat complex conditions like diabetes and hypertension as well, according to Bloch.

Hydrogen Health can offer people 360-degree support with dietary regimens and lab orders, for example, right from their mobile devices—improving outcomes and helping prevent the need for emergency intervention, Anthem executives said.

Hydrogen Health marks a key step in Anthem's strategy to become a digital platform for health, Ronanki said.

"You're going to see a lot more Anthem innovation that scales our digital care network," he said.